Christianity in China
I’ve always had an interest in China. Here's an article I found recently in the Anchorage Daily News called "China’s Powerful Momentum Stuns Western Visitors".
I wasn’t prepared for China. Not this China. Not the Audis crowding the roads or the low-slung Ferrari in the hotel valet parking lot. Or the grand opening of Tiffany’s Beijing. Or the gleaming banks—as in development banks and export banks—along almost every commercial block.... Or the Olympic-bid spit and polish of the city boulevards and gardens.... I wasn’t prepared for this China of today: The powerful sense of momentum.
One thing I look forward to every day is Susan reading to me before we go to bed. We’ve been doing this for years. Now, I obviously know how to read, but it's great to read through good books together! When we first started doing this we took turns, but she’s better at reading aloud and she likes it. I like listening.
Earlier this year, our friend Linda, who I introduced to you a month ago, lent us this book by Randy Alcorn, Safely Home. I’ve always been a Randy Alcorn fan and I bought copies of his book Deadline to give away to lots of friends and family members. I think Safely Home is his best book yet. It's about two guys who had been roommates at Harvard, Li Quan from China and Ben Fielding from the United States. They reunite after many years when Ben goes to China to do market research. Ben was as unaware as I was about the situation for Christians in modern-day China. I strongly recommend the book. I’ll be happy to lend this copy, or you can buy it in most bookstores.
I am always amazed by the bigness of China. A fifth of the people in the world live there, including a third of the people who have not yet heard the Gospel. What God is doing there is incredible! 70-80 million people are now part of an illegal house church movement. House churches are gaining thousands of converts every day. People will pay as much as a month’s salary for a Bible.
Here’s a little historical context.
- Since 1949, China has been a Communist country. Mao Tse-tung ruled until his death in 1976. In the Communist worldview, all religion is superstition.
- After Mao died, Deng Xiaoping (Chao-ping), a moderate Communist, became China’s leader. Deng was committed to modernization. Churches reopened and the constitution was changed to allow for freedom of religious expression. By the way, Deng is now very old, so there are likely to be some big changes soon in China's government.
- In 2001, Beijing was chosen to host the 2008 Olympic games, and that December, China was admitted to the World Trade Organization and granted "Most Favored Nation" trading status with the U.S. Things appear to be moving in a very positive direction for China. There is incredible energy, hope, and optimism.
But the goal of Communism is still one-world government. Only the methods have changed. China regards the world as its market. Some economists worry that China’s importance to global manufacturing will soon resemble Saudi Arabia’s position in the world oil market, leaving us dangerously vulnerable. Western visitors are stunned by what the author of this article called "the unstoppable, world-winning confidence that so many Chinese seem to wear on their sleeves."
According to the official Chinese website, "In China, all religions have equal status and coexist in tranquility. Religious disputes are unknown in China." The Chinese government will, it says, make ever-greater efforts to safeguard human rights and specifically to protect the freedom of religious belief.
On the surface, this sounds great. But remember, all religion is superstition according to the Communist worldview. A leader of China’s Religious Affairs Bureau has said that the government is determined to respect and protect freedom of religious belief until religion dies out naturally.
The problem is that religion is not dying out naturally. Christian churches are legal, but only if they submit to the authority of the Communist Party. Pastors are on the government payroll. Theology takes a back seat to Communist ideology. God’s love is stressed but not His holiness. Ethics are stressed but miracles, the resurrection, the Second Coming, and hell cannot be mentioned. No mid-week prayer or Bible study groups are allowed. No one may teach or baptize anyone under the age of 18, even their own children.
Most Christians and maybe all true Christians meet illegally in homes and secret places. Anytime a group gains strength, there is risk of a crackdown. House churches are growing and spreading at a rate that alarms Chinese leaders. "Any organized group that is not under government control is a threat," said one Christian worker. Christianity played a role in the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, and Chinese communists don't want a repeat.
Safely Home is realistic fiction, but it is more realistic than fiction. Recently there was a crackdown on one of the fastest growing house church networks in China, the South China Church. Many Christians were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. One woman I read about was beaten to death in prison. Her family was offered $8,000 and threatened with arrest if they leaked the story.
The head pastor of the South China Church was tried and sentenced to death on charges of "using an evil cult to damage a law-based society". Some members of his church finally admitted to immoral behavior after 36 hours of physical torture. Hours before the pastor's scheduled execution last January, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell intervened and the pastor was granted a retrial.
A Hong Kong businessman was arrested in late 2000 for smuggling 33,000 Bibles into China. He was eligible for the death penalty. Only official Bibles are legal, and people must sign for them. No study Bibles or commentaries are allowed. President Bush intervened in this case.
These are high profile cases. There is no way of knowing how many low profile Christians are currently imprisoned and subjected to torture, heavy fines, confiscation of their homes and property, and re-education in labor camps. In Chinese courts, guilty verdicts are a foregone conclusion. The trial is merely a formality.
All these efforts to suppress house churches have instead stimulated them. Mao did more for the spread of Christianity than hundreds of missionaries could have accomplished. He built roads, made Mandarin the official language, and ordered literacy training. He expelled foreign missionaries, which reduced the perception that Christianity is foreign. He so severely persecuted Christians that the Church was purged of anyone not willing to suffer for the faith. He exiled Chinese pastors to the countryside, where they reached millions of rural residents. Mao intended this for evil, but God used it for good. One pastor said, "This is a crucial hour for God’s people in China. For decades, even centuries, God has carefully orchestrated events in China leading to this hour."
In the book Ben Fielding comments about the health, wealth and prosperity doctrine taught by many American churches. Li Quan responds, "In China it is the opposite. You may be healthy and prosperous before you are a Christian. But once you start serving God, seldom will you stay that way." Chinese Christians expect to face persecution, torture, and even death for their faith. Yet the Church there is flourishing. Some Chinese groups are mounting efforts to send missionaries abroad, to the United States!
Li Quan said, "Suffering reminds us we are in a spiritual war. We know Who we are fighting for. We know who the enemy is. Even in our cells we pray for believers outside China, especially in America. In your affluence and freedom, perhaps you forget you are at war."
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In Revelation 2:10, Jesus promises the crown of life to those who are faithful even to the point of death.
Chinese Christians need our prayers. Ephesians 6:18 says:
Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.
Note: The following links take you directly to some of the sources we used, as well as a report issued by the U.S. State Department the Monday after this talk was delivered:
- Official Chinese web site: http://www.china.org.cn/
- 2002 International Religious Freedom Report on China (issued by U.S. State Department)
- Open Doors with Brother Andrew: http://www.opendoorsusa.org
Note: This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.
Go on to read Zechariah's Scroll
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony